Cover A painting by Ramón Oviedo and a palm tree sculpture add tropical flair to the sitting room

The work of Spanish designer Pepe Leal, the vibrant interiors of this decadent apartment in the Dominican Republic reflect its owners’ exuberant personalities and tastes

It took just one fateful meal in Madrid to kickstart this fruitful creative partnership. After being introduced by a mutual friend, interior designer Pepe Leal hosted design entrepreneurs Andrés Lugo Lovatón and Carlos Camblor in his stylish apartment for dinner. And the proof was in the pudding, so to speak—during their visit, the dynamic duo were so wowed by his home that they promptly hired Leal to transform their own abode in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic.

As the co-owners of furniture retailer Ilumel, the sociable and well-connected duo appreciate good design, and also “know absolutely everyone in Santo Domingo”, reveals Leal. It was important that their home reflect their worldly tastes, myriad passions and dynamic lifestyles.

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“They love contemporary art and design, and most of all, they own this store (Ilumel), and they really wanted to use their house as a showcase (of their furnishings),” says the Madrid-based interior designer. “They travel a lot, they often go to New York, Spain, China, Shanghai, Singapore and India on buying trips. So they wanted a space that makes them feel like they are travelling the world, but at the same time not forgetting all the references to their (own) country in the Caribbean.”

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While it has an impressive footprint measuring 6,458sqft, the apartment suffered from the Goldilocks effect: some areas, such as the sitting room and the master bedroom, were too large for what was functionally necessary, and other spaces so small that they made the home appear cramped and narrow.

“There weren’t any partitions to give you a sense of a scale, and they also didn’t have a nice sitting room to have breakfast or watch TV in,” recalls Leal. “I felt they needed a small, cosy and private area to be in every day, and to make it different from the social space where they hold their parties.”

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The designer thus reorganised the spatial flow of the home: it now has a total of three bedrooms, a sitting room, a secondary living area and dining zone, as well as two kitchens, five bathrooms, a large service area, a study and a gym. In the formerly open-plan sitting room, Leal added screens and created various partitions that separate the living and dining areas from the main entertainment space, where the owners welcome their guests. Wooden panels with palm tree motifs distinguish the intimate living area from the main sitting room, while arched portals separate the dining area from the former.

When it came to the design concept of the home, it was clear the owners adored maximalism, an aesthetic preference they share with Leal. “They really like fully decorated spaces; they are no minimalists,” declares the designer. To create an abode befitting the larger-than-life personalities of the owners, the designer combined tropical Caribbean influences with the uptown glamour of Manhattan penthouses. 

“I wanted their home to be like a penthouse overlooking Central Park, but at the same time having that sense of excessiveness of the Caribbean combined with the American style of doing things on a bigger and very impressive scale; a Caribbean-meets-Manhattan thing,” says Leal. “The place is quite sophisticated in terms of the design and quite urban, but at the same time, it’s has a lot of references to the Caribbean.”

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There is much to see in every corner of the home, be it the jewel-toned furnishings, the elaborate arched portals, or the decorative cornices, wall mouldings and other striking interior architectural elements that pepper the residence. In fact, no table, shelf or console is left unadorned. Vibrant hues elevate the sensory exuberance of the apartment and its local roots.

Take, for instance, the generous use of turquoise in the kitchen; this striking shade is typical of the colonial-style buildings in the historical part of Santo Domingo. “The textures that you get in these houses and that I see while travelling in the country are translated into a more contemporary language in this home,” says Leal.

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To add a sense of history to the abode, stunning selections from the owners’ home furniture business are paired with antiques as well as custom furnishings and joinery created by Leal’s studio. These include a bespoke bookshelf crafted in Caribbean oak, various custom screens in the communal areas, as well as the colourful glass screen created to separate the dining area from the hall. 

The master bedroom was also divided into two smaller rooms with a separate dressing area to maximise the use of its generous proportions. “I realised they need a lot of space for their clothes and to be very organised in the dressing room, because their clothes were all over the place,” quips Leal. “So I multiplied by three the space they had for clothes!”

A print of an artwork by 19th-century French painter Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin,Young Man by the Sea, playfully adorns the cabinetry in the dressing room, where a rug crafted with New Zealand wool from Stark Carpet adds a cosy feel underfoot. This area also features a bench upholstered in a Casamance fabric with Gancedo trimmings, selected to echo the colours of the Dominican Republic flag.

Leal considers the master bedroom his favourite area in this home. “I think it’s because I would like to sleep in that bed,” he laughs. Here, an oil painting by Dominican artist Ramón Oviedo and a Casamance wool and brass headboard add visual interest; the headboard also conceals the home office in the bedroom.

The project wasn’t without its challenges: numerous FaceTime calls and video conferences between the design team and the owners bridged the distance between Madrid and Santo Domingo. Leal also stayed with the owners for a few weeks in the city to get a better understanding of their way of life. 

“The Dominican Republic is a very hot country, but they’re so used to having their home air-conditioned; it’s super cold in the home,” says the designer. This encouraged Leal to use plush materials such as velvet on the upholstered furnishings, which also contributed to its decadent look.

Completely swiftly in five months, the finished home is certainly impressive. “They were so trusting and really excited about working with me; they’re actually one of the first clients I had that gave me carte blanche on everything,” says Leal. “Sometimes, they were even saying, ‘Why are you asking us so much? We trust you to do whatever you want.’ And that, to me, is like music from heaven; it was a perfect relationship with them.”

This article was featured as the cover story of the Tatler Homes Singapore October 2021 issue, now available on Magzter and in bookstores.